Category Archives: pay-per-post

Despite the hookers, Ford gets paid posts right


The Ford Fiesta is the American auto success you’ve never heard of. This tiny car is built abroad in places such as Brazil and India, has sold more than 12 million units worldwide since 1976, and its diesel version gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. But demand for so-called “supermini” cars has been lackluster in the U.S., up until now.

So Ford is launching the car in the States with a social-media buzz campaign. Ford has enlisted 100 “agents” for an extended six-month test drive, who can tweet, blog, or post photos about their rides. As we’ve noted in the past, marketers are recruiting consumers to promote products by buying their reviews in social media, and this often creates conflicts of interest … in which readers are uncertain how sincere, or what the source of, a communication is. The issue is controversial in ad circles, and even Google has weighed in, demanding that paid posts include no-follow tags to keep the quasi-ad-material off search engines.

Ford avoids the greasy, buying-your-mind feel of many paid campaigns by doing several things right. Users can write what they want (Diablito Damian jokes he’s using the car to pick up prostitutes). The car rentals are tied to several “mission” competitions unrelated to payment — have a graffiti artist paint a wall in your house — that resonate in the young target demo, and are staged to help continue the buzz about the campaign. And test drives are aggregated in almost a Consumer Reports-vibe portal.

On the spectrum of paid posts, between cash-for-shilling and access-for-reviews, Ford strikes a balance that’s more informational than promotional. The debate on paying for opinions isn’t going away, and the approach may become less useful as the social media streams become crowded with promotions. For now, driving to find hookers feels right.

Hat tip to Todd Sanders.

Maybe spam filters will sponsor Izea


Networked spam is nothing new — telephones and fax machines and emails are all systems that got polluted over time, like PCBs building up in the Hudson River, until eventually people rebelled. The FTC, for instance, now allows consumers to register for phone Do Not Call lists and imposes significant fines on marketers who cross the line; DIRECTV and Comcast agreed this spring to pay a total $3.21 million to settle complaints that they called customers who asked not to be dialed again.

Why should marketers care if Twitter rings like a phone sales call over dinner? A few reasons. If you push unwanted messages into social media streams, you will be identified, and the negative backlash can harm your brand. Response rates on spammy messages tend to be low, and the few who do respond tend to be consumers of lower incomes and poorer education who, as bad as this sounds, don’t make good candidates for paying bills or repeat purchases. Leads generated from aggressive pushing — similar to telesales leads of the 1990s before DNC really kicked in — tend not to “stick” as well, meaning customers can be pressured into saying yes and then will wave off your product at the door.

Blogger Chris Brogan and Izea founder Ted Murphy may say sponsoring human opinions is OK as long as participants disclose, but what their myopia fails to see is the damage to the very network they rely on for their paychecks. Izea is plowing full-speed ahead with a planned launch of Sponsored Tweets, in which you can get paid pennies to annoy all your online friends. When the stream of social media is darkened with brand mentions that have no authenticity, consumers will seek fresh communication elsewhere.

At least Google says no

Google, one of the biggest information networks in the world, has already recognized this threat and polices spam, requiring blog shillers to tag their silliness with no-follow tags to keep the posts out of Google search results. Bloggers who fail to do so will be punished by Google by having their own PageRank reduced. Matt Cutts, Google’s spam czar, has said “Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.” The biggest search engine in the world seems worried that a wave of shilling posts could gunk up its findings, turning off Google users and draining its revenue from real advertising.

The pendulum will swing until consumers rebel, then defenses will arise, and we’ll all end up blocking each other again with a medium that is a bit more cumbersome … like your email In box that protects you with spam filters but occasionally ditches vital messages. Oh well. It’s human nature. Maybe if you’re lucky you can wrangle a few gift cards out of it.

(Twitter is polices unwanted messages in its stream. You can alert them by sending a message to @spam. Be careful not to retweet the entire spam message if you report one, however, since Twitter warns it may mistake you for a spammer too and suspend your account.)

Maybe spam filters will sponsor Izea


Networked spam is nothing new — telephones and fax machines and emails are all systems that got polluted over time, like PCBs building up in the Hudson River, until eventually people rebelled. The FTC, for instance, now allows consumers to register for phone Do Not Call lists and imposes significant fines on marketers who cross the line; DIRECTV and Comcast agreed this spring to pay a total $3.21 million to settle complaints that they called customers who asked not to be dialed again.

Why should marketers care if Twitter rings like a phone sales call over dinner? A few reasons. If you push unwanted messages into social media streams, you will be identified, and the negative backlash can harm your brand. Response rates on spammy messages tend to be low, and the few who do respond tend to be consumers of lower incomes and poorer education who, as bad as this sounds, don’t make good candidates for paying bills or repeat purchases. Leads generated from aggressive pushing — similar to telesales leads of the 1990s before DNC really kicked in — tend not to “stick” as well, meaning customers can be pressured into saying yes and then will wave off your product at the door.

Blogger Chris Brogan and Izea founder Ted Murphy may say sponsoring human opinions is OK as long as participants disclose, but what their myopia fails to see is the damage to the very network they rely on for their paychecks. Izea is plowing full-speed ahead with a planned launch of Sponsored Tweets, in which you can get paid pennies to annoy all your online friends. When the stream of social media is darkened with brand mentions that have no authenticity, consumers will seek fresh communication elsewhere.

At least Google says no

Google, one of the biggest information networks in the world, has already recognized this threat and polices spam, requiring blog shillers to tag their silliness with no-follow tags to keep the posts out of Google search results. The biggest search engine in the world seems worried pollution will choke its revenue model if users bail.

The pendulum will swing until consumers rebel, then defenses will arise, and we’ll all end up blocking each other again with a medium that is slightly less effective and a bit more cumbersome … like your email In box that protects you with spam filters but occasionally ditches vital messages. Oh well. It’s human nature. Maybe if you’re lucky you can wrangle a few gift cards out of it. At least one surefire way to monetize social media is to sell spam filters.

(Twitter is trying to police unwanted messages in its stream. You can alert them by sending a message to @spam.)

Next in paid posts, Intel sponsors your life


If I pay you to insert a brand into your conversation with your friends and it makes you feel good, is that OK?

The ethical quandaries of pay-per-post continue this month with Intel’s feel-good outreach to Federated Media bloggers. Maggie Mason, author of the blog Mighty Girl, attracts more than 20,000 unique visitors each month, not a shabby audience. So when she developed a life list of 100 things she wants to do before she dies (hopefully many decades from now), Intel agreed to pick up the tab for 10 of them. Maggie is now delighted, headed for Puerto Rico to swim with bioluminescent plankton. Intel has woven the blogger gifts into its broader Sponsors of Tomorrow campaign, a rebranding effort by agency Venables Bell & Partners of San Francisco to move the chip maker beyond commodity status.

We love the repositioning but still pause over the paid posts. A value exchange is occurring but it is not labeled advertising, and instead has become embedded in the author’s content — a gray area of confusion. As we’ve noted before, Google has declared paid posts off limits for its search engines, requiring bloggers who write such stuff to include “no follow tags” so that such links won’t gum up search engine results, or risk having their page rank removed. For bloggers who seek fame, losing page rank is a big eraser. For those who ponder the ethics of accepting payment to write opinions, it is interesting that Google — the world’s largest search engine and one of its biggest ad channels — has deemed paid posts as worthless content.

Tragedy of the commons

Some in the blogging world, such as Chris Brogan whom we’ve debated here and here, wonder why ad industry types take issue with paid posts at all. “We disclose,” these bloggers say, “isn’t that enough?” The answer is no: advertising, like any communication, requires a healthy ecosystem for it to function, and the rising quantities of paid mentions are beginning to pollute social networks. We’ve seen this before. Telesales almost killed the telephone as a marketing tool due to overuse, spurring the Do Not Call rebellion. Email spam has become so prevalent that filters now block it out, depressing legitimate email ad efforts, with an added benefit that your important work email may get blocked from a recipient by accident. The radio network Clear Channel once ran so many ads per hour that it was forced to retrench, after some in the industry worried the clutter would depress ratings and harm advertiser results. Advertising is like any green commons: put too many cows in the field, and you end up with a dust bowl tragedy.

Going too far in commerce is nothing new; admire your local strip mall for evidence of that. What’s different with today’s paid posts is they are buying opinions, not ad space. When the voice of a blogger talks highly of a brand, you now must filter the message carefully to decide whether to believe the thought. Is the opinion an authentic 10 or a shilling 0? Or is it somewhere on the sliding scale in-between? Perhaps paid posts are lovely if you’re the one taking a trip; we wonder if they will be as much fun when the entire voyage of life becomes one series of cleverly inserted brand mentions.

Image: MTLB

Skittles, ‘stunting’ and sustainability


Remember when the Skittles home page became a Twitter feed and the advertising world went nuts about it? Skittles captured 1% of all Tweets. Everyone talked. Brilliant.

A few weeks pass and now Skittles is back to zero. One of our critiques of social media campaigns is too many try to either buy into human networks (paying bloggers money or gift cards or charitable hooks for written mentions) or they “stunt” their way in. Stunting means pulling off a one-time idea that goes viral out of sheer novelty, but never can be repeated.

Are any of these approaches really sustainable? And if not, what can you do to maintain a message in the online idea marketplace?

Less than zero: How ‘double-free’ killed the Danish newspapers


Wired and “freemium” guru Chris Anderson had dinner recently with Jon Lund, chief of the Danish Internet Advertising Bureau, and learned about a free business model gone sour. It seems in fall of 2006 a new newspaper called Nyhedsavisen entered the Danish market with a “double-free” model — the paper cost nothing, and it would also be delivered to homes for free. It was a foray by the Icelandic media group Dagsbrun to capture the Danish ad market but ended up decimating the nation’s newspaper industry, as other publishers tried to match the double-free model. In the end, three papers went bankrupt and the industry lost $150 million.

What’s intriguing about the tale is how demand plummets when oversupply swamps consumers, even if the goods are free. Local accounts say Danes got fed up with six newspapers a day. Reminds us a bit of all the social media and mobile free apps competing for attention in the U.S. … or worse, the advertisers trying to buy their way into social media conversations with paid posts that no one welcomes. If supply saturates and prices can’t move lower than free, demand is going to run away.

Paid posts and the psychology of deception


Yesterday we dropped into a debate with Chris Brogan about the ethics of paid blog posts. Chris is on the advisory board of IZEA, a company that enlists bloggers to write about brands in exchange for payment. Some feel this is OK. Others, like us, think buying online opinions is an ethically challenged gray area of marketing communications.

The real problem, of course, is deception — we can argue as to what degree, but there is no question that paid posts deceive by elevating a topic artificially and by inserting opinions more favorable because they have been bought. (This is one reason why Google seeks to ban paid posts from search results.) Even with disclosure saying a blog post is “a sponsored conversation,” the conflicts of interest and levels of confusion are high.

Does Joseph Jaffe really like his Panasonic TV enough to write about it?

Or is Joseph tweeting because Panasonic is his client, for whom he organizes blogger junkets to build online reviews of Panasonic gadgets? And does Keith Burtis realize, in the exchange above, that he just stumbled into a paid conversation?

Degrees of deception are nothing new. Back in 1996 Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Virginia, asked 147 people to keep a journal of all the lies they told in one week — with surprising results. Lies are extremely common in human communications; in any seven days, we tend to deceive about one-third of the people we talk to one on one. Men and women lie differently (men tend to be more egotistical, lying to inflate their personas, while women are more likely to deceive to appease hurt feelings). The wildest finding was that the intent of most lies was to be helpful. We use falsehoods to make others feel better. We even may need lies to boost our own self-esteem.

So what’s wrong with a good lie?

All communication contains a spectrum of truth vs. fiction, but the closer we get to untruths the more cognitive dissonance we encounter. Since humans need to sort their way through life by making judgments based on outside information, we often rely on others to tell us what is going on in the world. Dishonesty can make us feel better; it can also be dangerous by skewing the facts in ways that lead to wrong assumptions. We may have an evolutionary bias toward the truth; cave men who lied about sabre-toothed tigers may have gotten their friends eaten, and only the skeptical survived to pass down genes.

Advertising, of course, is often filled with stretched truths; this may be why media have demanded for a century that advertising be clearly labeled, so that consumers can judge the communication with a grain of salt.

Lies and half-truths surround us. This probably explains why people fight so much over politics, since there may be no right answer. It also hints at why paid posts are so controversial. In a world of imperfect information, it strains our mental data intake to learn that supposedly authentic opinions online may, or may not, be skewed by cash changing hands.

Photo: Riot Jane

Coolest little fake shilling we’ve seen in a while


We checked in on the pay-per-tweet service Magpie, in which people online agree to turn over their personal Twitter accounts to let ads run. The ads aren’t disclosed. They look like genuine opinions from these people. These people get paid (a little) as messages are transmitted to thousands of online followers. Brands like Apple, Skype and Flip are participating.

Is this cool? Do such paid insertions in conversations break trust, even if “sponsorship” is disclosed, if the recipient can’t tell the source of the opinion?

If we told you the Flip camera is the coolest little device, would you now believe us?

Do you see the problem?

True/Slant gets funky with ad integration


If Facebook, Digg and The New York Times had a drunken ménage à trois, their lovechild might look like True/Slant, a new ad-inside-journalism web model. The concept is simple: Journalists write; readers comment to push up articles and their own personal fame; and advertisers get to write their own pages, too. The site is heavy-up with skilled authors formerly of NYT, Financial Times and Rolling Stone, but it’s the ad integration that has Walt Mossberg buzzing.

Walt notes: “In a highly unusual move, the site plans to offer advertisers their own entire pages where they can run blogs and try to attract a network of followers. These will have the same design and features of the journalists’ pages, but will be labeled as ad content.” It’s actually brilliant integration — the ad content has the heft of the real articles, but the clear distinction — both in labeling and in authorship — keeps the gray shadiness of sponsored posts at bay. The site even gives reporters a cut of ad revenue, inspiring them to write strong authentic pieces that attract a loyal following and thus more ads.

We like it. Now if only someone would clean up the layout.

True/Slant gets funky with the ad integration

If Facebook, Digg and The New York Times had a drunken ménage à trois, their lovechild might look like True/Slant, a new web journalism model lauded in a puff piece by Walt Mossberg of WSJ.com. The concept is simple: Journalists write; readers comment to push up articles and their own personal fame; and advertisers get to write their own pages, too. The site is heavy-up with skilled authors formerly of NYT, Financial Times and Rolling Stone, but it’s the ad integration that has Walt Mossberg buzzing.

Walt notes: “In a highly unusual move, the site plans to offer advertisers their own entire pages where they can run blogs and try to attract a network of followers. These will have the same design and features of the journalists’ pages, but will be labeled as ad content.” It’s actually brilliant integration — the ad content looks the same with the heft as the real articles, but the clear distinction — both in labeling and in author — prevents the gray shadiness that creeps into blogs that are paid posts. True/Slant keeps the journalists separate, but as their individual rankings rise, they get a cut of the advertising they attract — thus they are inspired to write better authentic content, which in turn will attract more eyeballs and clearly defined advertisers.

We like it. Now if only someone would clean up the layout.